Winter Solstice is upon us. Is your inclination to reflect, sit and wait out the tamasic (heavy) energy of Winter? Or have you already started moving towards the emerging light, turning that corner towards a new energy – maybe working with mantra or visualisation?
You may be inclined to work more steadily and focus on strength in the Winter to move through the inertia. Or do you move into your own ‘cave’ with a practice that is much more reflective and inward – softer postures, forward bends. The answer might depend on who you are. There is never a solution or strategy that fits everyone. This is the beauty of yoga – everyone has their own inner journey that needs to be honoured.
What is mantra?
An aspect of yoga that draws us to inner connection is sound. Mantra (or chant) can be a compelling tool to create inner change and ancient yogi-s believed it was the most direct way to heal simultaneously on all 5 of our human dimensions. Body, breath, mind, emotions and personality.
Illness or suffering on one layer is always reflected in another. I may have a bad headache from not enough sleep (body layer) so my joy/happiness is dampened as a result (emotional layer). Perhaps I am making bad decisions (mind layer). We can’t escape the effect we are having on our entire system by everything we do in life.
But back to mantra and its evolution… the mythological story goes that Lord Shiva won a dance competition against his wife Parvati – a better dancer. At the end of the competition some great sages took advantage of the moment and asked Shiva to create the alphabet so that people could communicate. Shiva agreed and beat his dhamaru (drum) 14 times. The sounds that emerged from it are known as the Mahesvara Sutras (14 lines that contain the alphabet of Sanskrit language).* From these sutras come the sounds that form Vedic Chant.
What is the importance of sound?
Sound (sabda) is a product of the universal element that houses it – space. The two are intertwined. Space was the first element that existed and is a fundamental aspect of all others that formed after it (wind – fire – water – earth). These great elements are within us too.
If we can reflect on what space means within our own bodies, we see it is essential to our wellbeing on all dimensions. Lack of space can be as a result of how we hold the body. Poor posture can affect our lungs, heart and diaphragm (our breathing muscle) or other organs.
We may also experience this lack of space emotionally when we are stressed or anxious – a constriction around the heart.
And without space we cannot create sound.
When we can’t voice what we feel we start to suffer through the other layers – emotions, mind etc.
Here is where mantra can be powerful. Different sounds have resonance in different parts of the body – it is is an effective way to work with prana – our life energy. It may create heat, coolness, balance – it all depends on the sounds being voiced. The right sound can bring space to all our dimensions and allow us to have clarity around our thoughts.
The history of OM…
The universal and classic sound common to yoga is OM. It is said to be the sound of the universe being created. In actual fact OM is made of 3 letters (A-U-M) and 4 counts (the last is silent).
A – creation of the world
U – preservation and maintenance
M – dissolution / destruction
Silence – eternal/unchanging
Repetition of the OM sound is said to connect is with something much deeper – an awareness of what is unchanging – a link with soul/purusa. It may be a connection with the eternal aspect of our self or acknowledgement of a greater source that connects all life. Respect and consideration in how we recite the chant is most important. It should not be done in a mechanical way.
The beauty of chant or mantra is in the meaning so choosing something that is appropriate for you is important. So if your inclination is to move within a little at this time, try using mantra as a tool to nourish that ‘inward’ reflection. And if you feel you are gradually moving back into the light, then use mantra to welcome that too!
Kyo Yoga, Ocean Grove
Reference: *A Guide to Vedic Chanting by TKV Desikachar